London, 1819. Richard, Marquess of Devon is satisfied with his ton marriage. His wife of five months, Lady Eugenia Devon, thought she was, too, until she found The Book. Their marriage is one of respect and affection, with no messy entanglements such as love. Devon’s upbringing impressed upon him that gentlemen slake their baser needs on a mistress, not their gently bred wives. However, once married, he was no longer comfortable bedding a woman other Eugenia.
When she stumbles onto a naughty book, she begins a campaign to change the rules. She wants her very proper husband to fall in love with her. But her much changed and undeniably wicked behavior might inadvertently drive her confused husband to ponder the unthinkable—his perfect Lady has taken a lover! But the only man Eugenia wants is her husband.
The Book can bring sizzling desire to the marriage or it might cause an explosion.
“A woman who seeks a man’s attentions will do the unexpected.”
Secrets of the Bedchamber, p. 27
Lady Eugenia Devon’s ears perked up when she heard the name Mrs. Forestor whispered by Lady Marlboro to Lady Stevenson. Unobtrusively attempting to overhear their conversation, she sipped her tea and endeavored to block out the constant blathering by Mrs. Fairchild, who had held her ears captive for more than twenty minutes.
Ever so slightly, she tilted her head in the direction of the women. “Yes, my dear, it appears she died yesterday morning. Her carriage overturned on the road from Bath. Poor thing broke her neck.” Lady Marlboro looked around and continued on, her effort to whisper falling somewhat flat. “It was quite a shock, a woman so beautiful.” They both glanced in Eugenia’s direction, the smirks on their faces cutting her heart.READ MORE
So my husband’s mistress is dead.
If she felt anything at all it was more like numbness. How many times had she wished the woman out of her life? Not that she had wished her ill, but she hardly felt remorse.
She remained still, with her much-practiced smile on her face, never missing a sip of her tea. Anyone observing her would surely think she hadn’t heard the whispers, and if she had, they had no effect on her. Her fingers did not shake as she placed her teacup in the saucer. Her hands lay in her lap; she did not fidget or glance at the women who were gossiping. She did not rise and excuse herself to her hostess and hurry from the room.
As always, The Ice Queen was in complete control of herself.
A half hour later, when she deemed enough time had passed, she rose and called for her carriage. She thanked Mrs. Fairchild and offered a genuine smile to Ladies Marlboro and Stevenson. As she left the room, head held high, she did not even hesitate when she heard, “She’s such a cold woman. No wonder Devon kept his mistress.”
Her smiled remained in place as her carriage rode through the streets of Mayfair. Once they arrived at her townhouse, she accepted the footman’s hand and made her way up the steps to the front door. She turned so her butler, Bellows, could remove her pelisse. Gracefully, she climbed the stairs to her bedchamber, floating along, as was her usual gait.
She entered the familiar room, decorated in pale rose and green. The room was perfect, much as she was. Not one hairpin out of place, either in her room or on her person. She laid her reticule on the dressing table and bent to remove her half boots.
Then she threw herself on her bed, her hands over her head, grinning foolishly at the canopy. Waves of joy washed over her, and she had the urge to jump up, race to the window, and fling it open, shouting like a fishwife for all of London to hear.
Her nemesis was dead!
The Marquess of Devon heard of the death of his former mistress while sitting in his club, sipping brandy. When the young pup who was having a good time spreading the news blurted it out to him, Devon’s hands fisted on his glass. His heart took a quick thump and then he was surprised at the sense of relief that flooded him, followed by shame at not feeling more than that.
He nodded at offered condolences as he left the club and headed for home. Not that the townhouse in Mayfair was more of a refuge than one of his clubs. His townhouse was the place where he kept his clothing and worked at his desk in the library. Where he made the requisite three trips a week from his bedchamber to his wife’s for the purpose of getting her with child.
But he had no desire to put up with the shrewd glances and speculations that were surely to come if he remained at White’s.
He entered the mews, turned his horse over to the stable master, and took the stairs up to his house. He wondered if Eugenia had heard the news. As a polished and proper member of the ton, his wife would not acknowledge Margaret’s death. Neither would he. They’d never spoken of his former mistress, indeed as far as everyone was concerned, including Eugenia, he had still visited her for sex.
As he approached his bedchamber, he didn’t realize the lateness of the hour until the bell sounded to dress for dinner.
His valet, Jake, awaited him. “Good evening, my lord. I have your bath ready.”
“Thank you, and this evening her ladyship and I will be attending the Ponsoby ball.”
“Yes. I have the proper attire for the event ready,” the man sniffed. Too well-trained to show he needn’t a reminder, since Jake knew Devon’s schedule better then he himself did, nevertheless Devon sensed the slight rebuke.
Two hours later, Devon held up the crystal decanter as Eugenia settled on the blue and white striped chair in the drawing room, where they awaited the dinner announcement. “Would you care for a sherry, my dear?”
“Yes. Thank you, my lord.”
Always formal, his wife was the epitome of what he’d wanted when he’d begun his search for a marchioness. Tonight she wore a gown of pale blue shot through with silver. Her golden blond hair was pulled back into a chignon at her nape. No dangling curls brought softness to her features as she regarded him with ice blue eyes.
He handed her the glass and sat across from her, sipping a brandy. “Are you looking forward to the ball tonight?”
A slight hesitation caught his notice. Odd. Eugenia never hesitated. “Yes, indeed I am.”
Had she already heard of Margaret’s death and was concerned about gossip? No. His wife never noticed, nor participated in, gossip.
The door to the drawing room opened, and Bellows entered, stiff as was his usual demeanor. Bowing slightly, he said, “I apologize for the interruption, my lady.”
Eugenia smiled up at him, despite the fact that Devon had never seen his butler smile back. “Yes, Bellows, what is it?”
“The upstairs maid, Jennie, has requested an audience. I told her to speak with the housekeeper, but she insisted on speaking with you. She indicated she would wait all evening if necessary.” The butler appeared as though he smelled something unpleasant on the bottom of his shoe.
“You may send her in.” Eugenia placed her glass on the table.
Not wishing to deal with servant issues—after all, wasn’t that one of the reasons he’d wanted a wife?—Devon stood, “I will leave you to deal with this.”
“No,” Eugenia held out her hand. “Please stay, my lord. If you are uncomfortable, you can pick up a book and pretend to read. I am sure this won’t take long, and then we can move on to dinner.”
He acquiesced and headed to the sideboard to refill his brandy glass. He still would have preferred to remove himself, but since she requested he remain, he would bear it.
Devon recognized the chit when she entered. A slight girl, and whether she was attractive or not was unknown since her face was swollen with tears. She crushed a handkerchief between her fingers and moved to stand in front of Eugenia.
It seemed to him she’d been employed for some time now. Certainly before he and Eugenia had married. Another reason he was grateful for his wife. He detested dealing with servant issues.
“Yes, Jennie. Bellows said you wished to speak with me.”
She curtsied. “Oh, my lady, I am so sorry for interrupting you. I feel so bad, but something has come up that I…” The girl burst into tears, blubbering into her soaked handkerchief.
Devon glanced at Eugenia, who looked back at him, her eyebrows raised.
“Perchance you might tell me what your problem is?” Eugenia’s soft voice encouraged the girl to pull herself together.
Sniffing, she said, “I believe I am with child, my lady.”
“Indeed.” Something in that one word must have encouraged the maid, because she seemed to draw strength from it.
“Is she married?” Devon mouthed to Eugenia, who gave a curt shake of her head.
He sipped his brandy, feeling sorry for Jennie, about to lose her position with a child on the way.
“Who is the father, Jennie?” Eugenia continued in a voice that appeared to calm the maid.
“Mick,” she mumbled, casting a glance at Devon.
Devon nearly choked on his brandy. “My groom?”
“Yes, my lord.” This was the first time the girl had directly looked at him since she’d entered the room. He was getting more and more uncomfortable with the conversation. Why the devil had he been dragged into this? These matters should not be brought up while he was around. Most likely, Eugenia would dismiss them both.
If he’d been surprised by the entire exchange, he was completely taken aback when Eugenia turned to him and said, “You must insist your groom marry Jennie immediately.”
Eugenia lifted her chin. “Jennie is a good girl. If she is in a family way, she is not the only one responsible.” She turned to the maid, who regarded his wife with something akin to adoration. “You may go about your duties. His lordship will take the matter in hand.”
“Oh, thank you, my lady.” Jennie burst into tears once again and fled the room, the twisted handkerchief sopping the waterfall.
Eugenia regarded him, determination in her blue eyes. “I will leave the situation in your capable hands, my lord.”
She retrieved her glass of sherry and took a sip. “Has there been progress on the bill you are sponsoring in Parliament?”
He was afraid he appeared dimwitted as he stared at her slack-jawed. She had just handled a most distressing situation with grace and aplomb. Now she wanted to continue on as if something extraordinary had not just occurred.
He mentally shook himself and collected his thoughts. “Yes, I have managed to gather a bit more support for it.”
Of course, he mused, there was much more to the gathering of support, but since women were unable to grasp politics, there was no reason to expound on that. Truth be known, he’d always questioned such an assumption drilled into him by his father. He and Eugenia had had several conversations where she’d surprised him with her intelligence and insight.
Although, after the scene he’d just witnessed, he was hard-pressed to admit he really knew his wife at all. He saw Eugenia as a compassionate person, but her handling of the maid’s situation impressed him. Surely, had his own mother, or any other woman of the ton he’d known, been faced with a similar situation, they would have dismissed both servants with no recommend.
And they called her The Ice Queen.
They fell silent, the only sound the ticking of the longcase clock in the corner of the room. He refused to move onto the subject of the weather. Why was it he had never noticed until now how little they had to say to each other? Mayhap if he’d encouraged her thoughts on the bill he was sponsoring, he would once again see her enthusiasm as she voiced her opinion. Keeping to certain subjects when conversing with one’s wife made for stilted discussions.
His thoughts wandered as he sipped his brandy and Eugenia stared into the fire, a picture of female serenity. He’d wanted a wife he could count on to always do the right thing, handle every issue that came up in his household without troubling him, who was both beautiful and gracious. No hint of scandal had ever been, nor ever would be, associated with her name. When he’d decided the time was right to set up his nursery, he had not wavered from his choice. He had wanted The Ice Queen and had gone after her with the same determination as he did all things.
He had paid her the necessary court once he’d received the approval of her brother. After an acceptable period of time, he’d met with Lord Clarendon again and had worked out the marriage contracts, then he’d proposed to Eugenia, anticipating her acquiescence. She had accepted with grace and charm and had presented her cool hand for his kiss. They’d had a lavish wedding under the eyes and good wishes of the ton.
Everything had been perfect from then on, so why was he now experiencing this sense of restlessness, of wishing they had more to say to each other?
Wanting to break the silence, he said, “I was quite impressed with your handling of the servant issue just now, Eugenia.”
She actually looked surprised at his remarks. “Thank you, my lord. I am sorry you had to be a witness to the matter, but I already had a hint of the situation and hadn’t wanted to discourage the poor girl by having you leave the room as though she’d done something wrong in requesting my attendance.”
He sipped his drink. “You knew of her condition?”
“I didn’t know, but suspected. ’Tis not hard to know the concerns and happenings of the staff when one keeps an eye and ear open.”
Another reason to be grateful for his choice in a spouse. Matters of staff and household concerns, and their resultant problems, rattled him. Before Eugenia, he’d left it all up to his housekeeper, who in turn ended up consulting with him, anyway. “Yes, I can see where that would be true. Well, I wish to thank you for your management of what could have been a very unpleasant circumstance.”
She dipped her head in acknowledgment of his words, a slight blush rising to her lovely cheeks.
He was beginning to realize that Eugenia was so much more than merely a proper lady. Underneath her shell of decorum, he sensed a warm, loving woman, anxious to throw off the mantle of aloofness that no doubt had been impressed upon her by tutors and governesses. To his amazement, that realization was leading him to question other parts of marriage directed by his father.
As a member of the nobility, it was his obligation to fill his nursery. He visited Eugenia’s bed on a regular basis. Other than those obligatory appearances to ensure succession, he reminded himself one was not expected to feel lust or love for one’s wife. To do so was considered crass and bad ton.
It annoyed him that the butler’s announcement of dinner brought a certain amount of relief. Life was perfect, he assured himself, and exactly as he had planned. He didn’t need uncomfortable thoughts that made him question things better left alone.
At precisely ten o’clock they left the house. Arm in arm they proceeded down the stairs into the waiting carriage. As they rode through Mayfair, Eugenia seemed to grow tense. Perhaps she was, indeed, expecting some unpleasantness tonight due to Margaret’s death.
Only he and Margaret had known they had not been in bed together since the night before his wedding. Despite his belief that a proper gentleman maintained a mistress in order not to upset his wife’s delicate sensibilities, he had not been able to bring himself to continue their relationship. In fact, the entire situation had become ridiculous.
The last time he’d visited her they’d played cards until the wee hours of the morning. More than once she had indicated she would not be averse to putting out that she was looking for a new protector. However, Devon had been reluctant to do so, and could never understand why.
Once they arrived at the ball and greeted their host and hostess, he and Eugenia danced their one set together, this time a waltz.
As he took her into his arms, she gazed up at him, something in her eyes affecting him in a way he did not wish to delve into any deeper. “You look particularly lovely this evening, my dear. That color brings out the blue in your eyes.”
She sucked in a breath, and once again her cheeks were tinged with a lovely shade of rose. He was reluctant to leave her, lest the biddies begin to gossip and hurl remarks in her direction. He could stay by her side, but that seemed a bit drastic and much removed from their normal practice. After the music ended, he kissed her hand, escorted her to her usual group of friends, and retired to the card room. Since it was generally accepted that a married man not stick by his wife’s side, lest he be considered “besotted,” she would stay in the ballroom with the other matrons. She would often leave before him, so he would not see her until dinner the following evening.
The next afternoon Eugenia browsed the shelves of Webster’s bookstore on Bond Street. This was her favorite time of the week, when she allowed herself the luxury of wasting time looking at books and picking out two or three that she would purchase for her growing library. She didn’t add them to the main library, since Devon would not want to be disturbed by her entering to find a book while he was working.
The previous night’s ball had not been as difficult as she’d thought it might be. Since Mrs. Forestor had been a known courtesan, her name would not be mentioned in polite society with innocent young ladies present. She’d caught some knowing looks from the older women present and stumbled upon two ladies in the retiring room having a robust chat that quickly came to an end when Eugenia entered the room.
Her attention returned to the book shelves as her gloved fingers moved over the books, looking for something different. She pulled a book from the shelf, and the binding snagged another one alongside it that tumbled to the floor. Her eye caught the title in bold black letters.
Secrets of the Bedchamber.
She bent to retrieve it, and the tome fell open in her hands. Her eyes grew wide and she gasped before snapping it shut, glancing furtively around to confirm no one was nearby.
Assured of the emptiness of the store and with the book clutched in her hand, she hurried to the back of the shelves to make certain no one saw her, and slowly opened the book. Heat rose to her cheeks. A drawing of a naked couple in a very awkward position almost made her giggle. Did people really move their limbs into that sort of an arrangement?
As she flipped through the pages, she noted it contained advice on how to conduct oneself with regard to sexual concourse between men and women. She licked her suddenly dry lips, her heart thumping as she read the words and considered the additional drawings. The one with the woman on her knees in front of a naked man, with her…Oh, my!
Her hands shook and her breathing increased. Heat shot from her middle as she attempted to hold in a giggle. The Ice Queen was melting…
I must have this book.
The thought flashed through her mind without consideration. Of course the problem she faced was getting it out of the store. It hardly bore thinking of her embarrassment if Mr. Webster noticed the title and knew the contents. She chewed on her lip—very unqueenly—and pondered how to take possession of the knowledge in the book.
Mayhap she could come in every day and huddle in the corner of the store and take notes? No. She had to own this book.
The idea popped into her head so quickly she questioned all the years she had done everything the right way. Never once had she succumbed to improper behavior. Until now.
She would steal it.
Not really steal it, of course. She would slip it into her reticule and purchase two other books. Then, she would distract Mr. Webster with conversation and leave money on the counter for the naughty book. Yes. She would do it!
Her heart pounding fiercely, she took note of her surroundings and almost swooned at her impertinence. Not only was she buying a scandalous book, she was actually tucking it into her reticule so she could walk out of the store with Mr. Webster completely unaware of her actions.
She cringed to think what her mother would say. Shoving that to the back of her mind and taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, she selected two books and headed to the front of the store, the weight of the stolen book banging against her leg as she walked. Good heavens, she’d never done anything at all like this in her whole life. How did thieves function every day? She was a bundle of nerves.
“Good afternoon, Lady Devon. Did you find books for your pleasure?” The older man greeted her as she laid her books on the counter.
For your pleasure?
She forced down a giggle. Did he know she had tucked the scandalous book into her reticule? Why had he used that particular phrase? With a lavender-scented handkerchief, she gently dabbed her upper lip where beads of moisture had formed. Lord, she never perspired. A life of crime was certainly not for her.
“Yes. Thank you, Mr. Webster.” Rattled even further by her shaky voice, she shoved the two books across the counter. “I will take these, if you please.”
He reached for the books and grinned. “I had no idea you were interested in the Aborigines, my lady.”
She gasped at the title of the book the man held out to her.
The Habits and Culture of the Aborigines by Lord Stephen Manors.
Dear heavens, was that the book she’d picked up? “Yes, as a matter of fact, I thought …well…to…to broaden my knowledge of the world,” she finished lamely.
“Very commendable, my lady.” He wrote some figures on a piece of paper and added them up. “That will be fifteen shillings.”
Eugenia stared at him aghast. How could she go into her reticule for her money? She wanted to stomp her foot at forgetting this part of the transaction. How would she do that with the man standing there staring at her?
Heat rose to her face until she felt as though she would combust. “Um, this is so silly.” She gave him a strained laugh. “But it seems I left my money at home. Could you please place this on my account—if I have one, that is?” She’d always paid for her books. In some small way it made her feel as though she had some control over her life, even though her pin money came from her husband.
“Of course, of course, my lady. Lord Devon maintains an account, and I will be happy to add your purchase to his.”
“Th-th-thank you.” One more swipe on her upper lip with her handkerchief. Since she could not go into her reticule for her money, she was indeed flat-out stealing the naughty book, after all. Before she could give too much consideration to her actions, she fled the store.
Head down, she hurried away, her mind in a jumble, not really sure which way she was walking. She had even left her poor maid, Sally, still browsing the shelves of the bookstore. She’d walked only—nay, practically ran—about a half a block when she nearly crashed into a pair of fawn breeches, silver waistcoat, and dark brown jacket. Her eyes climbed up the figure to meet a pair of very familiar dark brown eyes. His brows rose, and he gaped at her. “Eugenia? Is everything all right, my dear?”
Devon stared down at his wife. His flustered wife. Something he’d never seen in six months of courting and five months of marriage. She was panting heavily, there was a light film of perspiration on her upper lip, and her face was as red as the apples being sold from the fruit cart across the street.
She regarded him, her mouth agape. Something else he’d never seen before. The poor woman was obviously in a bit of distress. “Eugenia? Is something amiss?”
Eugenia shook her head, almost as if to clear it. “No. No, nothing at all, my lord. I am fine. Just taking a stroll.” She cast him a grin that would give a small child nightmares.
“I don’t wish to contradict you, my dear, but you are flushed and seem out of sorts, and galloping along, rather than strolling. Perhaps I might escort you to Gunter’s for an ice?”
She glanced at the reticule that dangled from her wrist, and her red face paled. What the devil was going on with his usually unflappable wife? “Yes, my lord. That would be quite pleasant.”
Devon extended his elbow, which she gripped, glancing over her shoulder as if expecting to be snatched away. Very strange.
Due to the temperature of the day there was a considerable crowd outside the store. He escorted Eugenia to a small table under a tree where the air was cooler. That might help to calm her. He shook his head. Never had he experienced a need to calm Eugenia. She was…well, he had never liked the moniker the ton had bestowed on her. The Ice Queen.
She appeared a bit more composed when he joined her with the ice. She fanned herself and smiled brightly at him as he placed the ice in front of her. “Are you feeling better?”
“Yes. Much.” Why did he think she was lying? She kept glancing at her reticule as if she expected it to jump up and bite her. When she took a taste of her ice, a small piece stayed on the corner of her mouth. Distracted, she didn’t seem to even notice. He motioned with his finger to his mouth.
“What about my mouth?”
“You have a piece of ice stuck there.”
Instead of reaching for the handkerchief she always kept in her reticule, she simply moved her tongue out and scooped up the piece of ice.
All his blood rushed to his groin.
What the devil is the matter with me? This was his proper wife he was feeling lust for, not some doxy. As they continued with their treat, he seemed to see her for the first time since their encounter. Her hair wasn’t quite as perfect as it usually was. There remained two bright spots on her cheeks, and the sight of her running her tongue around her lips to catch the ice had him realizing how very plump and inviting those lips were.
Of course he’d kissed those lips before. Certainly not in the way he wished to devour them now. But their copulating had always been what was proper between a husband and wife. Not wanting to upset her delicate nature, he’d always visited her in the dark, offered a few perfunctory kisses before he entered her, then quickly took his leave so as not to disturb her rest. Exactly the way he’d been instructed by his father before he’d ever thought of taking a wife,
“Remember, son, a wife is a special person with tender sensibilities. You must not upset her by treating her like a light-skirt. Protect your wife, show her the proper respect, and slake your lust on a mistress.”
Perhaps he was merely fascinated by her lips because of the five months he’d been without his normal sexual release. Not that he had no control over his lusty inclinations. He was not a young pup, but a man fully grown, capable of behaving as a gentleman with his wife, whom he had always treated with the utmost kindness and consideration.
“If you are finished with your ice, my dear, I shall escort you home. Is your maid with you?”
She licked her lips once again and looked at him with surprise. “Oh, dear. Yes, I believe she is. Though I might have left her back at the carriage, waiting for me.”
Odd. To his knowledge, his wife had never before misplaced a servant. “I will have the footman with me instruct her to return to the house, and I will see you home in the carriage I brought.”
“That is not necessary, my lord.” She fumbled with her reticule as she attempted to rise. “I am sure you have other business for which you need attend.”
“Not at all. I shall be happy to see you home.”
Still ruminating on the curious behavior of Eugenia, he extended his arm and they walked away from Gunter’s to their carriage. After only a few steps, it came to his notice the sound of something heavy slapping against her leg as they walked along. It sounded to his ears as if she carried a heavy object in her reticule. When he glanced down at the small bag she patted her upper lip with a lavender-scented handkerchief and turned quite red in the face.
“Is there something in your reticule that I can carry for you?”
“No!” She snatched the bag from her wrist and held it protectively over her bosom. “I purchased some candies and might feel the need to have one.” She darted a glance at him. “Soon.”
They reached his carriage, and he helped her in. He eyed her as they rolled away from Bond Street. She continued to clutch the reticule to her person, her face going from bright red to pale white. If he didn’t know his wife so well, he would think she had something in her reticule she did not wish him to see.
Doubtful. Eugenia was nothing, if not predictable.COLLAPSE
Lightning City Book Reviews wrote:
Reigning Regency Romance Regent, Callie Hutton, writes another scintillating tale to woo readers everywhere! I can say with no hesitation, I loved every moment reading this novel. This will be one I will enjoy over and over again.
Maria D., Goodreads wrote:
Callie Hutton does an outstanding job in melding political, gender bias, romance, and comedy into Regency Fiction and is able to keep it light... it’s gold!
The characters are extremely well written and one finds that the passion between them is on the verge of smoldering point...Callie Hutton's new series is definitely going to become the next hot hot hot read!